Idriz Zogaj: How to become a memory master

What if I told you that in a month from now, you will be able to memorize a pack of cards by just looking at it once? And that you will be able to do that in under 5 minutes, with a little bit of training. What if I told you that that is all the knowledge you need to fundamentally understand how your memory and your brain works? That knowledge will then help you in your everyday life, when it comes to remembering people's names, commit important information to memory and then do it as a presentation at work, or if you're a school child and you want to score perfectly on your exam. What if I told you that this knowledge, if implemented in schools, would change the way we see the school system, not only in Sweden but in the whole world? My name is Idriz Zogaj. I'm a memory athlete. I am not some kind of a superstar; this is my alter ego. Before the age of 25, I didn't know anything of what I know today. The interesting thing about the age of 25 is that at the age of 25 the brain becomes fully mature. That is, you are a grown-up. Before that I knew nothing. I also finished -- well, I knew a lot of things, but -- I also finished my university studies, and I was thinking, what happens now? What am I going to do with my life? I've always been very interested in traveling and getting to know other people, culture, etc., and that requires communication. So, I was thinking, okay, I like the challenge, and I like to communicate with people, so, I'm going to learn a language. A new language. Something completely different from what I know now. I know the Latin alphabet, but I want to learn something that I don't understand when I look at it, like Arabic, Chinese or Japanese. Even Hindi crossed my mind. So, while I was looking at courses that I could take at home, because I was tired of the university life, I accidentally came across a book on memory. I was thinking that I wanted to learn this new language the way children do it, by practicing. Going somewhere and talking to people, and in that sense learning the language. I sort of don't like grammar, so this was my way of cheating away the grammar studies. I thought, if I am going to do it that way, I will become prepared. So, I want to put a lot of words and phrases into memory, and then go to that country, or that part of the world. This book of memory was excellent. Why not start to read it, and then see what happens. So, I ordered the book and started to read and then realized it is apparently all about techniques, thinking in the right way. It wasn't that difficult. I was very picky with the language I wanted to learn. I was like, reading the book, doing some exercises. Several years went by and I didn't find any language to select. But in the meantime, I was doing these exercises and gradually getting better. Another interesting thing about this book was that at the last chapter, this person talked about that you can compete in memory. I was thinking, what, they have competitions in memory?! This guy, Dominic O'Brien, had won the World Memory Championship six times, so he knew what he was talking about. I was still, like, competing in memory! I was looking at the levels he suggested that you complete. Then I realized, hold on! During this training, I've actually reached many of these levels. So, I thought, OK, I will focus a little bit more, and that's when I started to train the pack of cards, and one of the levels was to do it under five minutes. In 2004, I felt ready. At the age of 27, I went to the World Memory Championships in Manchester. Why not think big, just go to the World Memory Championships. I came 22nd in the world. I also became Sweden's best memory, a title I would hold for five consecutive years. So, when I came back, my friends were looking at me differently. They were like, "When did you become such a brain man?" "What do you mean?" "Well, come on, you just went to the World Memory Championships and competed". "Yes." "So..." "Yes, but I just read these techniques and adapted them." "You did?" "And I don't feel different, I mean, I'm the same." "Really, but what do you do at the World Memory Championships?" "Well, we compete in memory." "Such as.." Well, every competition is 10 disciplines. It can be numbers. It can be binary digits: one zero one one zero zero one one. Very funny. It can also be words. It can be names and faces, people's names. It can be historic dates. Do you know that the world record for memorizing historic dates is about the same or even more than all the dates you learned throughout the school system, including high school? This guy does it in five minutes. Imagine that, 12 years compressed into five minutes. I think it's easy if I show you. They would take a pack of cards, shuffle it. Not the one that we had before; it's shuffled. They would give it to me, and then while we're chatting I would start, and then after a while they ask me, "Idriz, when are you going to start?" Well, actually I'm already done. "What do you mean?" Take the cards, the pack, and split it anyway you want. This is Diamonds of 9. What comes after Diamonds of 9? What do you mean? What is the card that comes after Diamonds of 9? Clubs of 2, right? And what comes after Clubs of 2? Hearts of 10. And what comes after Hearts of 10? Two Fives. That's good. One is Diamonds and one is Hearts. I would say that one is Hearts. "So, how do you do this?" Well, it's just about adapting techniques, and actually I think it's easy if I show you with an exercise. Look at these two images. Do you see a connection between them? I'll give you a hint, there is no connection. It's just two randomly picked pictures. But here's what I want you to do. I want you to make a fun, vivid and animated story. Use all your senses, see how it looks like, feels like, to connect these two images together. And do it in 3D, even though you don't have 3D-goggles. Your brain is amazing, it can do it anyway. It's projected in 3D. I'll give you a few seconds to do this. Here's how I would see it. Let's see at the order of where you're sitting. You look next to you and see a big snail. It has a door on it. You open the door because it says welcome. I mean, you've never been inside a snail cell. You go in and say: "Oh it's slimy in here, why they do that?" Look at these two images. OK, give you the same, make a story. Let's take the stairs where I came up. You see a flamingo building a big brick wall. We have to climb over it. It's no point but -- And these three, what do you think? We all know why elephants -- because it is a big elephant -- you all know why they are strong: they carry a lot of weight. You see a big giraffe up on the screen and the skier is like, I'm going to go skiing down the giraffe neck. Look up on the roof. The last one is a bit obvious, right? Because you see a reptile, and they like to be in the sun. It's quite common, so you might think that this is an obvious one. This one I will remember. That's a dangerous thing, because obvious things we tend to forget. I bet I could find people in this room that don't remember what they had for breakfast. Maybe today was different because you were going to TED, so you had breakfast later or whatever. But it's a common thing you do, so it's easy to forget, not registered. So, see the snake with big glasses, a nice drink and enjoying the sun on the roof. And the drink is not spilling. So, what did we just do? Well, we let our brain have fun, and when we did that we focused on the task. When we focus on the task, we tell our brain that this is important: remember this. So, first we enforce the power of remembering. What is the brain? The brain is a biological lump of neurons. It contains about 3% of our body weight, but consumes 20% of our energy intake every day. It doesn't matter if you're sitting in the audience, standing here talking or whatever you are doing. It's about the same level of energy consumption all the time. So, it has a lot of neurons. They like to connect to each other. They can make tens of thousands of connections. This is also why we are all unique. I mean, it's impossible to copy or to make two identical brains. So, we are all unique. The stronger we make the connections, the longer we will remember the information. So, we can make weak connections and we forget them, because that's a natural thing. We always forget, that's a natural thing. If you have a normal functioning brain, it sorts out information that is not important. But you can tell it what is important and what is not. The stronger the connections you make, the longer you will remember it. With this knowledge, I would say that today students study too much. The reason why they do, I could say that it's because many students today, don't know how to put the information into their brain. They study and study and study and it becomes late. They go to bed late and wake up tired. Instead of putting the information in their brain in the way the brain likes to have it. Then they can rest, commit time to the hobbies, spend time with their family, and then do a repetition of the information they learnt. But if you don't know that the information is there, you don't trust your brain. If you don't trust your brain, you study all the time. I will prove this to you that your brain actually is better than you might think yourself. The exercise we did before, I do with five-year-olds. But then we use 30 pairs. So, don't feel any pressure. Look at this image! There's something missing, right? I bet your brain fills in the gaps. So, if I say weight, you say? (Audience) Elephant. Thank you. And if I say bricks, you say? (Audience) Flamingo. And if I say the obvious one? (Audience) Sun. Thank you. If I say door, you say? (Audience) Snail. And if I say ski? (Audience) Giraffe. And if I told you to give them to me in the right order, as they came up, what will you do? You will close your eyes, go to the first place, go to the second place, go to the third place, the fourth place and the roof is last one. Give them to me backwards. You just go backwards. This is what we do at memory competitions. Now you memorized 10 words. That's one of the events, to memorize words. You can go to the competition and perform. The only thing we do is that we do it faster and longer. It's very interesting to note that the world record for memorizing a pack of cards by just looking at them once as fast as possible, is about the same time it takes Usain Bolt to run 200 meters. Think of that the next time you watch the Olympics. When he starts, you start, and see how many cards you remember. Now, I don't know Usain Bolt, but I know the world record holder for the cards, Simon Reinhard. I know how much he trains. I know he doesn't do anything different from what we just did before. He just structures the knowledge that he puts them into his brain. He looks at the information once, and he knows it's fixed there. It's all about having fun and letting the brain make strong connections. Then there's no limits. I have a friend who comes and helps me to organize the Swedish Memory Championships every year. If we would have a scale here over the mat. Here is a person who has difficulty with memory. Here is the normal memory, here's where most people would be. And here is where the geniuses are, the super memories. So, when she came first in 2009, I contacted the [inaudible] and told them, why don't we run some tests, some memory tests on this, because I like to work with a scientist to show them what we could do. Because there's not so much research going on in this area. The guy who did the research on her, which is actually that guy, Jacob Stohlman, he said like, "Idrez, we have to redo the scale because she's over there. She's outside of our scale." What she did is like way outside. How can you do this? But you haven't studied what we do, because it's like we would invent a sport today, and all of a sudden people are running, "Oh, they're moving so fast." But we're not doing anything else. We're just working with the brain, how the brain likes to work. The techniques are very old. The oldest one comes from the Greeks. The ancient Greeks, several thousand years ago. So, we didn't invent anything, we just packed it into this, and it's the training that has done it. And you can start your training right here, right now. The next time you hear something you want to remember, make a fun story of it, and you will make strong connections. So, happy practicing. Thank you. (Applause).

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